Legislative panel stops short of making final recommendation
MONTPELIER, Vt. — A special commission appointed by legislative leaders to study same-sex marriage stopped just short in its final report Monday, April 21 of recommending that the state become the second in the country — after Massachusetts — to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.
The Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection was appointed last summer to study whether Vermont, which became the first jurisdiction in the United States to offer legal recognition to same-sex couples with its civil union law in 2000, should take the next step.
The 11-member panel, chaired by the former legislator Thomas Little, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee when it wrote the 2000 law, said it decided not to make a final recommendation, because to do so "would undercut the purpose and usefulness of its work and this report."
"It is the role of Vermont’s policy-makers and elected officials to read and reflect on this report and in their best judgment determine what steps to take in their role as public servants of the people of Vermont," it said.
But in its findings the commission said "such a change in the law would give [same-sex couples] access to less tangible incidents of marriage, including its terminology (e.g. marriage, wedding, married, celebration, divorce), and its social, cultural and historical significance."
It added that full same-sex marriage "would likely enhance the portability of the underlying legal consequences of the status. … The tangible same-sex marriage benefits … raise serious questions about the operation of the civil union law and warrant additional research and serious attention."
And it said, "There is credible social science research supporting the conclusion that raising children in a gay or lesbian coupled family, per se, has no negative impacts on the well-being of children," but added that the topic needs further study.
The commission’s work included eight public hearings around the state — boycotted by same-sex marriage opponents, who charged that the panel was stacked in favor — a seminar on the legal issues at Vermont Law School and extensive staff research.
Supporters of same-sex marriage, including Beth Robinson of the Vermont Freedom To Marry Task Force, welcomed the report.
"They reported what they saw and heard, which is exactly what I was hoping they’d do," said Robinson, a Middlebury lawyer. "The vast majority of people who testified spoke compellingly about why this is an important step for Vermont to take."
Two leaders of the opposition to civil unions in 2000, the Rev. Craig Bensen of Cambridge and president of the group Take It To The People, and Stephen Cable of Rutland and the Vermont Marriage Advisory Council, said they were not surprised by the commission’s report.
Bensen questioned whether producing a report that contained no definitive recommendation, pro or con, for gay marriage was a good use of time and resources.
"I wonder what the purpose of this report was," he said.
Then he added that some of the legwork would be done when a bill is introduced in the Legislature, as is expected to happen next year. "They did the research for this," he said.
Bensen said the proper course is the same as the one he called for in 2000: a statewide referendum on the question.
Cable said his group would soon issue its own report on same-sex marriage.
"It will contain some information the commission didn’t have in theirs," he said.
Issuance of the report came too late for legislation to be passed this year; lawmakers are expected to adjourn their 2008 session within two weeks.
But Robinson vowed her forces would continue pushing the matter.
"We’ve never made a secret of the fact that we’re planning to come back in ’09 and we’re going to be here talking about these issues and looking to move forward, absolutely," she said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 25, 2008.